I’d be grateful for some thoughts on the following:
A valid will failed in its disposition because the sole beneficiary had pre-deceased, leaving the entire residuary estate intestate.
The overseas executor provided a general Power of Attorney for a solicitor to act as Personal Representative. The high value estate was distributed to paternal and maternal cousins or their issue, there being no closer degree of relative.
One maternal uncle was thought to have died early in WW1, unmarried and without issue, according to information provided by the maternal family. However, this was never corroborated or fact checked by the executor.
In actual fact, the uncle died late in WW1 and had married, with one child, who in turn left issue. Several years after the distribution (but within the relevant limitation period) the overlooked issue of this stem are now claiming their entitlement (a large six figure amount).
As the solicitor placed a notice in the London Gazette in accordance with s.27 of the Trustee Act 1925, they and their firm are claiming as a defence that the notice accords them full protection from claims from unknown relatives.
In addition, with the passage of time, the relatives who did receive monies will have a strong ‘change of position’ defence to any claim brought against them and none of them would be willing to join the PR via a Part 20 claim.
In over 40 years of probate research and assisting with probate administration, and like many practitioners with whom we have spoken, we have always regarded the general and usual purpose of s.27 notices as being mainly to alert any remaining creditors to an imminent distribution.
The prevailing view appears to be that times have moved on and that there are now more appropriate ways of protecting against possible future claims, such a missing beneficiary indemnity insurance, which is cost effective and easily obtainable.
However, a careful reading of s.27 does appear to afford the protection that the PR says applies in this particular case.
If this is still the case, it effectively allows PRs to ignore the possibility of unknown beneficiaries and to not undertake or arrange for any research at all. In fact, it discourages any such investigation, so that unknown relatives, if there are any, remain unknown.
I wonder whether forum members have any experience and/or opinion on this defence?”